Five Nurses At Long Island Home Charged With Covering Up Patient Abuse

Attorney General Spitzer today announced that five registered nurses holding high managerial positions at the Townhouse Extended Care Center in Uniondale have been charged with covering up acts of patient abuse at the facility by tampering with evidence and falsifying documents to deceive state investigators looking into the allegations. The focus of the state probes was a patient who died after being fed through an enema bag, and two other patients who sustained serious injuries in falls.

Scheduled for arraignment in Nassau County Court before Judge Daniel Cotter are: Audrie Brown, the former Director of Nursing; Roseann Colon, the former Assistant Director of Nursing; and R.N. supervisors Jewel Dwyer, Joye Brewer, and Barbara Martinez.

The defendants have been charged in a 21-count indictment with Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, and Tampering with Physical Evidence. If convicted, they each face up to four years in prison.

"The pain that these three elderly patients needlessly suffered was compounded by the venal acts exhibited by the defendants who forsook their obligations as both health care professionals and managers in order to try and hide their wrongdoing in the wake of state investigations," said Spitzer. "It is obvious that those charged were more concerned with their careers than the well being of those entrusted to their care. We will vigorously prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law."

Spitzer noted that the possibility of bringing patient abuse charges was precluded by the statute of limitations.

Deputy Attorney General Jos? Maldonado, Director of Spitzer's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), which is prosecuting the case, said, "Not since the dark days of New York's nursing home scandal in the mid-1970s has my office seen such a betrayal of patient trust as displayed in this case."

Mr. Maldonado added that today's case was the first to result from Attorney General Spitzer's statewide nursing home initiative in which he directed each MFCU regional office to target a nursing home for quality of care issues.

On the morning of April 5, 1997, a 97-year-old female patient died after Townhouse staff used an enema bag instead of a feeding bag to administer nourishment directly into the woman's stomach. (A feeding bag is equipped with a regulator and pump, thereby allowing staff to control the flow of the liquid nourishment. An enema bag contains a clamp that allows only two positions - open and closed.) Using the proper equipment, the feeding was supposed to take ten hours. However, as a result of using an enema bag, the entire feeding supplement was delivered in an hour or less. As a result, the patient experienced numerous episodes of vomiting and diarrhea throughout the night before dying.

When the State Department of Health (DOH) commenced an investigation into the patient's death, Brown and Colon, in their capacity as Director and Assistant Director of Nursing, respectively, allegedly tried to cover up the facts and circumstances surrounding the patient's death. They did so by directing staff, who had attended to the patient, to rewrite their nursing notes and written statements to falsely indicate that the proper equipment had been used. Brown then submitted these false statements to DOH.

As part of the cover-up, it is further alleged that Dwyer, who had been the R.N. supervisor on duty at the time, and who had ordered the enema bag to be used because no feed bags were available, falsely indicated in a written statement that there was no problem with the patient during her shift, and that nothing unusual was reported to her regarding the patient. In fact, Dwyer had repeatedly ignored requests by the staff to check on the patient once they realized she was in distress.

The second incident involved an 86-year-old female patient, suffering from Parkinson's disease. On the evening of April 3, 1998, the patient either fell out of bed or was dropped during a transfer and fractured her hip and shoulder. The injuries were not detected until the next morning. Three days later, on April 6, 1998, Brown and Brewer, the R.N. supervisor on duty at the time, allegedly ordered a nurse who attended to the patient to rewrite her nursing note to conceal the nature and extent of the patient's injuries.

Finally, in May 1998, Townhouse changed the format of its accountability record and in doing so failed to indicate which patients were one, two, or three-person transfers. (Such transfers involve assisting frail and disabled people to transfer in and out of beds and wheelchairs, and on and off toilets, commodes and shower chairs.) This omission went unnoticed until November 1998 when a 68-year-old female patient fell during a one-person transfer and suffered abrasions to her back. In order to shift blame from the facility to the aide who transferred the patient, Martinez, the R.N. supervisor at the time, altered the facility's prior monthly accountability records to make it appear that the patient had been documented as a two-person transfer.

Audrie Brown, 55, of 10771 N.E. 30th Street in Bronson, Florida, was charged with four counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, seven counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree and three counts of Tampering with Physical Evidence.

Roseann Colon, 50, of 50 Palm Lane in Westbury, Long Island, was charged with two counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree.

Jewel Dwyer, 46, of 260 South King Street in Elmont, Long Island, was charged with one count of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree.

Joye Brewer, 53, of 889 Jena Court in West Hempstead, New York, was charged with one count of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree.

Barbara Martinez, 62, of 507 Coolidge Avenue in Rockville Centre, Long Island, was charged with four counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree.

Townhouse Extended Care Center is a 280-bed proprietary facility located at 755 Hempstead Turnpike in Uniondale.

The investigation was conducted by Special Assistant Attorney General Veronica E. Bindrim-MacDevitt, of the Long Island Regional Office of the MFCU. All cases are handled under the direct supervision of Deputy Attorney General Jos? Maldonado.

The charges against the defendants are accusations, and they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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